Sheriff Vallario should step down
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario’s reaction to complaints about his romantic relationship with one of his employees is akin to that of a cop doing crowd control at the scene of a minor accident.
“There’s nothing to worry about here,” he wants us to believe. “Move along now, everybody. Move along.”
Despite Vallario’s claims, however, there is something very troubling about a boss romantically involved with an employee.
Such a relationship raises all sorts of questions about ethics, equitable treatment of employees and bias toward the employee in question — the very sorts of questions that have been raised in Garfield County of late.
Those problems are exactly why most workplaces — be they public or private — now have specific rules prohibiting sexual relationships between a supervisor and those he or she supervises.
Vallario, as an elected official, sets his own employee policies. He insists that he can carry on the relationship with his employee, not show any bias toward her and not allow that relationship to affect his judgment in running his department.
Already, at least one former employee and an anonymous e-mailer who apparently still works in the sheriff’s department have accused Vallario of just that sort of bias. They say he promoted his girlfriend over the former employee, who was more qualified. The e-mailer also says Vallario has sought retribution against any other employees who complained.
Vallario claims that is nonsense, that all of his decisions have been based on what’s best for his department.
We don’t know the reasons for his decisions, but it’s clear the perception will remain, both inside and outside the department, that favoritism exists. Vallario’s pledge to fire the person who sent the anonymous e-mail to the Garfield County commissioners and various news outlets only adds to the perception that preventing dissent and protecting his relationship with his girlfriend are the sheriff’s top priorities.
It remains to be seen whether District Attorney Martin Beeson will find evidence of a crime stemming from the relationship. Even so, the county commissioners were right to refer the issue to him.
But no matter what happens with that investigation, Sheriff Vallario’s relationship with his subordinate is guaranteed to dominate the remainder of his term in office, overshawdowing whatever else his department does and raising continuing questions about how decisions are made and how employees are treated.
If Vallario were truly concerned about the future of his department and the community it serves, he would resign now.